Overseas prisoners are queuing up to sue the Government over claims that the Home Office is failing to deport them on time under an early release scheme.
Convicted drug smuggler Charlesworth Christian is bringing a test case alleging that his human rights were breached because of the long delay in deporting him from the UK.
He claims that he stayed in jail longer than he expected because the Government failed to implement the early release scheme on time, the High Court heard today.
Papers prepared for the case show that the prison authorities indicating that the early release scheme issue was "causing many prisoners distress".
Christian, jailed for three years in May 2005 for importing class A drugs, was recommended by his trial judge for deportation to Antigua in the West Indies. He was finally deported from the UK on Wednesday - but his lawyers claim he is entitled to compensation because of the delay in removing him under an early release scheme.
The attempt to claim damages on the ground of human rights comes as the Government is facing growing criticism that the criminal justice system is "skewed" in favour of criminals rather than law abiding citizens.
Lawyers for Christian are claiming that the Criminal Casework Team, the unit at the heart of the row over foreign national prisoners, acted unlawfully and was guilty of maladministration because it did not implement the scheme in a reasonable time.
They contend that the CCT?s inactivity caused Christian to remain in custody for a considerable period longer than would have been the case had the scheme been properly operated. As a result, the drug smuggler wrongly suffered loss of liberty and was entitled to damages under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they say.
At least eight other similar cases are awaiting the outcome of his application for judicial review, and human rights lawyers say that many more could follow if he wins.
Mr Justice Newman, sitting in London, said that it was an important test case and that he wanted to hear full legal argument on all the issues it raised. Among the issues the court would have to decide was whether prisoners amenable to deportation under the early release scheme had a "legitimate expectation" that they were entitled to benefit from it.
He adjourned the test case until next month to give lawyers acting for John Reid and those acting for Christian time to prepare their arguments.
The judge also ordered the Home Office to put before the court evidence as to whether lack of resources and pressure of work were causing delays to occur in the deportation process.
Caroline Neenan, for the Home Office, said "This is obviously a difficult area. There has been a lot of publicity in relation to the CCT in recent times.
"Careful consideration has to be given to the manner in which to present the information to the court, and it will have to be considered at a higher level than it has to date."
Christian told the prison authorities when he starting serving his prison sentence in May 2005 after that he wanted to be deported back to Antigua. His lawyers say that, under the early release scheme, he became entitled to be deported on February 23 this year, 135 days prior to the half-way point of his three-year sentence.
An application was made for his deportation by staff at Edmunds Hill Prison, Suffolk, where he was serving his sentence, to the Criminal Casework Team. There was no response until after Christian?s lawyers applied for judicial review.